D.L. Wilson is one cool cat.
Everything about him radiates cool, from his jet-setting former career, to his mellow demeanor, to that feeling you get every time you speak to him that he’s got everything figured out. I’m fairly certain he’s actually a super-spy and his acclaimed thrillers are personal accounts of his adventures.
David’s latest work is the thriller “Sirocco”, an excellent, tense read about bioterrorism made all the more terrifying by the feeling it could be happening right now. Among many other hats, David is also an active member of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference board and a Vice-President of the International Thriller Writers’ board. I asked David to share his experiences, and here is what he had to say.
JK: Your latest novel (SIROCCO, 2011 Mont Clair Press) and your first novel (UNHOLY GRAIL, 2007 Berkley Penguin) explore a lot of grey areas. How important is it for thriller writers to make sure their characters and plots don’t fall into a simple “good vs. evil” trap?
DLW: Today’s readers want to be fully immersed in the plot and the characters of a novel. They want to be able to live within the story as if it is happening in real life. Experience the scenes as if they are actually there with the characters and get caught up in the complex thought processes as characters evolve within the story. I’m certainly one of those readers and for me life is a lot more complex than a simple “good vs. evil.” I want my readers to feel as though they are a part of my novels, living with the characters and coming away with a new perspective about very important aspects of life. Real people are not simply good or evil. They evolve through life experiences that change their personalities and actions. I want my readers to explore new perspectives about life, love, and the pursuit of good and evil.
JK: You have experienced a kind of unique journey leading up to the role of internationally acclaimed thriller writer, care to share?
DLW: My day job in the fashion industry took me to over 32 countries and more hours than I care to remember sitting on airplanes or waiting in airports. To ease the monotony I started reading novels. Back then we didn’t have the luxury of video screens and movies on the back of the seat in front of us. I started reading Ludlum, Grisham, Uris, Sanford, Patterson. I became hooked on the thriller genre. It became my reading passion.
After many years and over a hundred books, I decided to try my hand at writing. A friend suggested I attend a writers’ conference where I could interact with real writers and get the inside scoop. The inside scoop turned out to be a lot different than I could ever have imagined. I met an author who had published 4 novels. He impressed me with his candor. I asked him why he still had a day job after having a number of novels published. He answered that he had a family to support and not every published author was a zillionaire. I asked him why he continued to write if he couldn’t make a living at it. His answer surprised me, “because I enjoy it, it’s my passion.” He told me “writing is an art and art is in the eyes of the beholder. Don’t write as a job. Write because it’s your passion.”
My experience in business taught me that you always need clearly defined management objectives. You need a strategic plan to get to your ultimate goal. My ultimate goal was to get published. But I never forgot that in order to reach that goal writing had to be my passion. I attended writers’ conferences and writing workshops. I focused on networking and building relationships with successful authors. One author recommended that I write my first novel as a practice exercise. Don’t plan on sending it to agents or editors. Write it and lock it away in a closet. She stressed that my “practice novel” would turn out to be the most important thing I would ever write. I contacted a few authors who I ASSUMED had their first novels published. When we got down to the nitty-gritty, I found they all had written manuscripts that were never published. One of the authors, Steve Berry, has over a dozen international best sellers and he had written 8 novels and received 86 rejections before he was published. Did I write a “practice novel”? No! I wrote 2 before I focused on my first published novel, UNHOLY GRAIL, which became a best seller and has been translated into 7 languages. I learned the importance of practice, practice, and practice to master the many fine details of the craft of writing so we are able to add that piece de resistance—allow our passion to emerge on the page. The passion of our characters, the passion of our plot, and the passion of visiting the locations in our novels.
JK: One of your many hats has been Vice President (national events and special projects) of ITW (International Thriller Writers). How do professional organizations help authors?
DLW: I can’t overstress the importance of networking with all levels of writers and readers. I’ve been fortunate to have been on the board of the PWC (Philadelphia Writers’ Conference) for over 15 years, which is having its 66th conference in 2014. At every conference, every workshop, every meeting, I learn something new, a different perspective on important elements of the art and passion of writing. I’ve been involved with the MWA (Maryland Writers Association), Pennwriters, and many other professional writing organizations. Two years ago I was extremely honored to be chosen to the board of ITW (International Thriller Writers). I had been attending their annual ThrillerFests at the Grand Hyatt in NYC for five years where I had been their volunteer chair. This gave me an opportunity to discuss the writing world with many authors, beginning writers, and readers from over 28 countries. It’s that opportunity to get up close and personal with other writers that opens up new and exciting perspectives about the writing world.
JK: The definition of “thriller” has become somewhat plastic over the last few years (ITW members range from classic thriller authors like James Patterson to horror author Anne Rice to children’s icon R.L. Stine). Why do you think the definition has become so expansive?
DLW: The genres of mystery, suspense, and thriller have been closely related for years. Horror novels whether they are in the adult genre of Anne Rice or the children’s versions written by R.L. Stine share a common thread with thrillers. In each genre a character is trying to get to the truth about a horrible or dangerous event. Horror is a genre intended to frighten its readers through thrilling events. As ITW grew to a huge international organization, it has drawn the best of the best authors in a broad ranging perspective. All of these genres are focused on grabbing the attention of readers and they focus on a common thread, the thrill of turning the pages.
In mysteries the main character is occupied in tracking down the truth about a significant event, usually a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it is usually moderate and increases in danger only as the protagonist approaches the truth. It is the protagonist’s job to discover who committed the crime and why.
In suspense novels the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. The reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. It’s about the “why.” Why did the criminal act that way? Why did the victim become the victim? Why does the crime-solver care and become involved?
Horror novels are intended to frighten the readers. They create an eerie and frightening atmosphere through supernatural or non-supernatural events. The thrill is always there.
In thrillers the protagonist is in danger from the outset. It’s about the “how.” How will the protagonist stop terrible expanding events? How will the protagonist overcome overwhelming odds? How will it all end? The constantly expanding events and stakes are what make thrillers thrilling.
The bottom line is that readers read what they enjoy. I’ve read mystery, suspense, thrillers, and a few horror novels and I enjoyed them all because of the words on the page. That’s what the art of writing comes down to, the words on the page.